Late Summer Means Blackberries

July 26, 2014

BlackberriesIn late July you start to see people stopped by the side of the road, poking around in the bushes. No, they're not doing anything strange—they're picking wild blackberries! Late summer is definitely blackberry season in Northern California. And what's best is that these sweet little fruits can be had for free just about anywhere, if you're willing to risk stained clothing from all that blackberry juice, as well as the occasional wound from blackberry thorns.

There is a native variety of wild blackberry, the California or Pacific blackberry (rubus ursinus), but that's hard to find these days, having been supplanted by a non-native species, the domesticated Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (rubus armeniacus). This variety, fast-growing, invasive, and considered a pest by many, was introduced as a commercial cultivar in California in the late 19th century, but like so many non-native species prevalent in the state today, it got loose and spread all over the place. An easy way to tell the difference between the two varieties is to look on the underside of the leaves. The California variety is green, whereas the Himalayan is white.

Even though blackberry bushes are often considered pesky and unwelcome, the berries are delicious, and many people take advantage of the fact that they're readily available for the taking. While they're not necessarily great to have in your backyard, they're a welcome sight along the backroads or on the trail, especially since they're a wild fruit you know is safe to eat. Free trail snacks are always welcome! On walks and hikes we can never just pass by a bush full of ripe blackberries without stopping to pick a few—more than a few, really, as the children go crazy over them.

Marin Weekend Family Fun for July 25, 26 & 27

July 25, 2014

Day Out with Thomas at Roaring Camp RailroadsHere are our picks for great events and activities for children and families this weekend. Find more events for the whole week in Marin and beyond in our Family Events Calendar.

Friday, July 25

  • Day Out with Thomas 2014
    Roaring Camp Railroad, Felton
    Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10:30 am–5:30 pm

    This popular family event takes place at Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You can take a train ride, meet Sir Topham Hatt, and enjoy live music. Tickets to Day Out With Thomas at Roaring Camp Railroads are $20 each if purchased in advance ($24 for peak times—Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 am–2:30 pm). Tickets are $24 at the gate. Tickets are required for everyone aged 2 and up. Tickets include all entertainment and activities as well as a 25-minute train ride. Parking is an additional $8 per vehicle. Roaring Camp Railroads is in Felton on Graham Hill Road. For more info, visit their website.
  • Sonoma County Fair
    Sonoma County Fairgrounds
    Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 11 am–11 pm

    The Sonoma County Fair offers both a classic full-scale carnival with plenty of excitement for thrill-seekers and a separate kiddie carnival area for the little ones, with scaled down thrills and lots of excitement. Fair admission is free every day for children 6 and under; Friday is Kids' Days, with free admission for all children 12 and under. Carnival rides are an additional charge. Admission is $11 for ages 13 and up, $5 for children 7–12, and free for children 6 and under. For more info, visit
  • Gilroy Garlic Festival
    Christmas Hill Park, Gilroy
    Friday–Sunday, 10 am–7 pm

    The 36th annual “Ultimate Summer Food Fair” features three days of incredible food, beverages, arts and crafts, and live entertainment. The Children’s Area includes spectacular rides, fun activities, and more. Tickets: Adults $ 20, children 6–12 and seniors 60+ $10, children under 6 free. For more info, visit their website.
  • Children's Garden Series: Crosspulse
    Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco
    Friday, 11–11:30 am & 12:15–12:45 pm

    This free event is part of the Children's Garden Series at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. Using snaps, slaps, claps, and dance, Crosspulse performs with a very unique instrument, their own bodies! Taking advantage of their various cultural and artistic backgrounds, the members of Crosspulse deliver an exciting body percussion performance. For more info, visit their website.
  • San Rafael Young Performers Theater: Peter Pan, the Musical
    San Rafael Community Center
    Friday & Sunday, 3 & 7 pm

    Peter and his mischievous fairy sidekick Tinkerbell visit the nursery of the Darling children late one night and with a sprinkle of pixie dust begin a magical journey across the stars that none of them will ever forget. In the adventure of a lifetime the travelers come face to face with a ticking crocodile, a band of bungling pirates, and of course the villainous Captain Hook. Friday night is Gala Night. Tickets: $8–$15. Location: 618 B Street, San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • Friday Family Date Nights: Mariachi Juvenil Los Cachorros
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Friday, 5–7:30 pm

    Bring your family to enjoy later hours, live entertainment, special outdoor activities, and more. All activities and performances included with all-day museum admission. Free admission for members. This Friday, enjoy the festive music of Mexico with the talented youth group Mariachi Juvenil Los Cachorros, or the Puppies. For more info, call (415) 339-3900 or visit their website.
  • Friday Nights on Main: La Dolce Vita
    Downtown Tibruon
    Friday, 6–9 pm

    Bring the entire family for a night of fun. This Friday, celebrate la dolce vita with latin rock fusion band Bautista and strolling opera singers performing Italian opera favorites. For more info, visit their website.
  • Music in the Park: T Sisters
    Marinwood Community Center, San Rafael
    Friday, 6–8 pm

    Enjoy Friday evenings in the park, featuring live music, delicious food by Marinwood Market, wine, and beer. Location: 775 Miller Creek Road, San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • Tam Valley's Creekside Fridays
    Tennessee Valley Cabin, Mill Valley
    Friday, 6:30–8 pm

    Bring the family, pets, chairs, and blankets to the weekly free musical event. This week: Revolver. Food available for purchase. For more info, call (415) 289-4152 or visit their website.

Saturday, July 26

  • Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 9 am–2 pm

    Enjoy pony rides and a petting zoo for the kids from 10 am–2 pm, face kids' crafts from 9 am–2 pm, children's music or storytelling from 9:30–10:30 am, and more live music from 11 am–12:30 pm, as well as fresh produce, prepared foods, and great local restaurants. For more info, visit their website.
  • March of the Penguins
    San Francisco Zoo
    Saturday, 10 am

    Don't miss this popular annual event—now open to the public! Watch the Zoo's four adorable adolescent Magellanic penguins waddle to their new home on Penguin Island. This event celebrates the penguin chicks' graduation from Fish School (where they lose their fluffy down, learn to eat whole fish, swim, and hang out with their human keepers) and their reunion with the rest of the penguin colony. Help them make their public debut in red-carpet style! Zoo admission applies. For more info, visit their website.
  • WIldCare Family Adventures: Oakwood Valley
    Mill Valley

    Saturday, 10 am–12:30 pm

    Oakwood Valley Trail, a little known trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offers shelter and sun. We will look for the rare mission blue butterfly which is on the federal endangered species list. The Mission Blue depends on a very specific host plant called the lupine which is found in Oakwood Valley. Scan the sky and the hills for wildlife. Location: Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley. For more info, call Marco at (415) 453-1000 ext. 17 or visit their website.
  • The 29th Annual Berkeley Kite Festival
    Cesar E. Chavez Park, Berkeley Marina
    Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–6 pm

    The Berkeley Kite Festival is an amazing free family event with fun for all! From the terrific food and arts and crafts booths to the Kids' Zone, free kite making and candy drop, the Berkeley Kite Festival has something for everyone. Parking is $15 per day at Golden Gate Fields, which includes a free shuttle to event. For more info and directions, visit their website.

Hit the Trail at Indian Valley Open Space Preserve

July 24, 2014

Indian Valley Open Space PreserveOne of the great things about living in Marin is the amount of easily accessible open space. Almost everyone has at least one trailhead right around the corner, so there's no excuse not to take the family on an outdoor excursion whenever possible. One of the most popular areas for hiking, horseback riding, cycling, and more in northern Marin is Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato.

Located adjacent to the College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus, this 885-acre preserve is criss-crossed by a wide variety of trails, most shaded by oaks and California bay laurels, making it a pleasant place to go for a hike on a hot day. During various times of the year you can find a waterfall, wildflowers, and peaceful Pacheco pond, which is often teeming with wildlife like toads, frogs, fish, and newts. It's a popular destination for school groups studying our ecosystem.

The main trail is Indian Valley Fire Road. It's flat, wide, and well maintained, and it's a great place for walking, a bike ride, and even a hike with an off-road stroller. You'll often find horses and their riders as well as dog-walkers here. (Dogs can be walked off-leash on the fire road, but must be on-leash on all other trails.) Other trails that branch off from the fire road include Pacheco Pond Trail, the wonderfully named Buzzard Burn Trail (named after what happens to unfortunate birds that land on the nearby power lines), and the Waterfall Trail. Some of these involve pretty easy elevation changes.

Find Fresh Seasonal Produce at Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden in Novato

July 24, 2014

Indian Valley organic Farm and GardenThis spring and summer, the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden on the grounds of College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus is a great place to get organic fruits and veggies. A project of College of Marin, Conservation Corps North Bay, and the UC Cooperative Extension, this 5.8-acre certified organic education farm and garden is open to the public for produce shopping on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm from March through October.

Bring your own bags and browse the farm stand for a wide variety of seasonal produce grown right there on-site. Right now, you can get artichokes, beets, radishes, chard, kale, leeks, and more. They also sell plants like poppies and other flowers, fruit trees, and several kinds of strawberry plants.

Explore Berkeley's Tilden Park for Family Fun and Adventure

July 22, 2014

Tilden Park Little FarmFor a fun family day out this summer (or any time of year, actually), head east over the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge and up into the Berkeley hills, where you'll find Tilden Park, a 2,000-acre playground where there's literally something for everyone. Part of the East Bay Regional Parks system, Tilden is so big and there's so much to do here, that it really bears repeat visits!

From hiking trails and campgrounds to a historic carousel and scale steam trains, you'll find a lot to do here. Best of all, many of the attractions are free or very inexpensive. Here are our favorite things to do when visiting Tilden.

Tilden Nature Area and Little Farm

One of the busiest areas of Tilden Park is the Nature Area, and for good reason. This part of the park is home to the Little Farm, the Environmental Education Center, and numerous family friendly hiking trails, as well as group campgrounds, picnic areas, and a playground. It's located right off Canon Drive at the north end of the park.

It's Time for Peace and Love at the 2014 Sonoma County Fair

July 22, 2014

Sonoma County FairIn case you missed or just didn't get enough of the Marin County Fair, you'll be happy to know that the 2014 Sonoma County Fair starts Thursday, July 24 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, and runs through Sunday, August 10. It's worth checking out if you've never been: it's bigger and a lot different than Marin's smaller, more intimate fair, and has more of an agricultural focus, which is natural for a more rural county like Sonoma. The Sonoma County Fair also features the largest themed flower show in the country, which is usually pretty stunning—this year's theme is "Peace, Love & Fair."

The fair includes a kids' area with free appropriate entertainment and activities, including craft projects, a dress-up area, creative hands-on-activities, and plenty of lawn and shade. This year's kids' area theme is "Blast Off to Outer Space", so expect plenty of space-themed fun, and even an astronaut training school! There's also a parents' rest station with changing tables and chairs for nursing.

The fair also holds a daily parade around the grounds at 5 pm that all can participate in—if you want to join in, show up by the Milk Barn at 4:45 pm. Of course you'll also find plenty of other things to see and do, including the usual county fair offerings of concerts, livestock displays, contests, and tons of food, as well as horse racing, rodeos, a even a demolition derby. The fair also boasts two carnivals: a kiddie carnival for the little ones and five acres of more thrilling attractions for older fair-goers.

Healing Your Postpartum Body

July 21, 2014

Pomegranate Center Postnatal yogaMarin Mommies presents a sponsored article from Pomegranate Center in San Anselmo.

Most pregnant women take exceptional care of their bodies and most new mothers take exceptional care of their babies. It’s a rare woman who makes her own mental and physical well-being a priority after giving birth. Now that you have your baby in your arms, you owe it to yourself and to your family to make healing and self-care a priority.

Pomegranate Center in San Anselmo offers a safe and supportive environment to begin taking care of yourself after birth. We offer two Mom and Baby Yoga classes to connect with your baby and your body –this class is just enough stretching and movement to start opening and engaging your muscles after birth. It is a class full of support and community and will give you confidence as you practice mothering (babies are in the class) and self-care.

We also offer a weekly Postnatal Pilates class taught by Tamar Dover: a postnatal mom of two young children (ages 3.5 and 2 years old) who has been teaching pilates for 12 years. We have onsite childcare during this class for children who are 4 weeks-10 years old.

Tacos al Pastor with Homemade Corn Tortillas

July 21, 2014

tacos al pastorThere's something about authentic style tacos that's so delicious, and one of our favorite variations is tacos al pastor, which consist of pork marinated in a red chile sauce with grilled pineapple. In taquerias the pork is usually cooked on one of those vertical spits (like the ones used to cook shawarma or gyros), but we make a simplified version that we cook on the grill and I think it's a great approximation of the real deal. The enzymes in the pineapple help tenderize the pork, and the sweetness plays off the flavor of the red chile and spices.

It's also fun—and surprisingly easy—to make your own corn tortillas, and there's nothing quite like a freshly made tortilla hot out of the pan. It helps to have a cast iron tortilla press, but you can use a rolling pin in a pinch. The kids love to make their own tortillas, although we leave the cooking to a grownup, since they're baked in a hot cast iron pan. Actually, quite a few of the tortillas never make it to the taco part of the meal, since they're so good on their own.

If you've never had a fresh, hand made tortilla, you're in for a treat. They're really quite unlike the packaged kind you get at the store, and they're really delicious. One more tip: rinse your chopped white onion in cold water and let drain before you use it to top your tacos. This really takes away a lot of the strong raw onion flavor.


for the tacos

  • 2 ounce package whole guajillo chiles
  • 1 cup pineapple, cut into chunks

Blackberry Buttermilk Skillet Cake

July 20, 2014

blackberry buttermilk skillet cakeThis is the time of year when delicious blackberries are now readily available at the farmer's market. Blackberries also grow wild throughout Marin, so they're free and plentiful if you know where to look (and don't mind the occasional jab from a blackberry thorn). The kids love to go pick blackberries, which we usually end up eating out of hand. If we have enough left over, we try to make a blackberry dessert like this old-fashioned buttermilk skillet cake.

This cake is best made in a cast iron skillet. If you don't have one, go get one—cast iron pans make everything you cook in them taste better, and they're virtually indestructible. You can cook with them at home, take them camping, and eventually pass them down to your grandkids! You'll find them at the hardware or sporting goods store for around $20 or so. They even come pre-seasoned, so you can use them right away.


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • dash of salt
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